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I’ve often heard the stereotype that British food isn’t good. It’s true that British food is very heavy and quite stodgy, but it is delicious! We’re such a multicultural nation that typical foods from other countries heavily influence our diets. If you wander around the tourist hotspots, you’ll find a complete range of Italian, Indian, American and many other restaurants, so British food isn’t really well known. Let’s take a look at 10 typical main course dishes from the UK.
Fish and Chips
OK, so we didn’t invent fish or chips, but it’s a traditional British meal and definitely something you should try if you visit the UK. We take our fish and chips very seriously, with national competitions for the best fish and chips.
Fish and chips grew in popularity following the first world war as it was one of the few foods that wasn’t rationed, so people could eat however much they wanted and since then, it’s become one of the most popular meals in the UK. You can find this in most pubs and British restaurants, but it’s normally eaten as takeaway food.
The fish is deep-fried in oil to create a batter and it’s served with chips on the side. The type of fish varies, but you’ll usually find haddock or cod as the main choice. British chips are thick cut, so not quite the same as fries. Traditionally, this is wrapped in newspaper and then served to the customer. Before eating, we pour vinegar over the dish and then tuck in. You may also find tartar sauce (another name for mayonnaise mixed with herbs) and mushy peas (garden peas mashed and mixed with mint and butter) on the side.
Full English Breakfast
A full English breakfast is also a well-known dish with hotels and restaurants serving this as a breakfast option around the globe.
A traditional full English breakfast (also called a “fry-up” or “full English”) has fried eggs, sausages, back bacon, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, a slice of toast and fried mushrooms. Of course, with a cup of tea. You will find many variations of this breakfast with some offering more than these basic ingredients and some only offering a few.
The other British countries also have a take on this breakfast. The full Welsh breakfast includes cockles (a mollusc found on the beach) and laverbread (seaweed). The full Irish breakfast normally includes Irish soda bread and a full Scottish breakfast includes a tattie scone (mashed potato that is fried) and sometimes haggis (sheep’s pluck mixed with oats and spices).
The Sunday roast dates back to the 1700’s and has strong religious ties. After church on Sundays, the family would come together to eat a large meal. As this meal takes so long to prepare, all the food would cook in the oven whilst everybody attended the church service and then it would be ready once the service was over. Nowadays, it doesn’t have strong religious ties, but it has maintained its importance as an excuse for a “family get together” on Sunday afternoons.
A Sunday roast is primarily one joint of meat (beef, chicken, lamb or pork), with some form of potatoes (mashed or roasted), a selection of vegetables and gravy (a sauce made from the juices of the meat). The combinations vary depending on each family, but most families will choose the same selection on a weekly basis. If the meat is beef, a traditional accompaniment is a Yorkshire pudding (see below).
As mentioned above, a Yorkshire pudding isn’t a meal in itself, but it’s an accompaniment to a Sunday roast. It’s history lies in Yorkshire, a county in the north east of England.
Yorkshire puddings are made by mixing flour, eggs and milk together to create a batter. In the meantime, you place lard in a muffin tin (also called a Yorkshire pudding tin) and heat it to a very high temperature in the oven. Then you pour the batter into each hole in the tin and place it back in the oven to rise. This should rise on the outside, leaving a hole in the centre. Yorkshire puddings can also be eaten as a starter, served with onion gravy.
Toad In The Hole
Toad in the hole is an adaptation of a Yorkshire pudding. Rather than filling the individual holes in a muffin tin, the Yorkshire pudding batter is placed in a large dish and sausages are spread around in the batter. Once this has cooked, it’s served with gravy and sometimes mashed potatoes.
Shepherd's Pie/Cottage Pie
Shepherd’s pie and cottage pie are both very similar, but have different names depending on the type of meat that is used. Shepherd’s pie is when the meat is lamb, but cottage pie is when the meat is beef.
It’s a very simple dish with minced meat (either beef or lamb) cooked and mixed with carrots, onions, tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce and beef stock. This is placed on the bottom of a large dish and then mashed potato is layered on top. Many people like to make patterns on the mashed potato using a fork. This is then placed in the oven to cook through and it’s ready to eat. The side for this meal is garden peas.
Traditionally, this meal was made the day after a Sunday roast to use up any leftover meat and potatoes, but nowadays it’s a meal in itself and its often found on the menu in traditional British pubs.
Bangers and Mash
Also a very simple meal, bangers and mash is a different way of saying sausages and mashed potatoes and it’s normally served with garden peas and onion gravy. It’s a very simple meal to make but very filling. This is another example of typical food that is available in British pubs. Food that is low cost, easy to make on mass and available in pubs is often called “pub grub”.
The history of the name “bangers and mash” dates back to world war one. With the strict rations in the UK at the time, meat wasn’t readily available, so when sausages were made there was very little meat content and a very high quantity of water or other fillers. This led to the likelihood that the sausage could burst (“bang”) at any moment when being cooked, hence the name bangers and mash.
Lancashire hotpot comes from a north western county, Lancashire. It is similar to Shepherd’s pie because it is lamb on the bottom and potatoes on the top, but in a slightly different cooking style.
The lamb is chopped into cubes and mixed with onions and carrots whilst the potatoes on top are thinly sliced. A Lancashire hotpot is a slow-cooking meal that can be left in the oven all day. During the industrial revolution when people had long working hours and lack of kitchen equipment in their houses, they used to take the hotpot to the local bakery and keep it cooking on an open fire all day, so it would be ready for dinner in the evening.
A scotch egg is usually eaten as a light lunch or as part of a picnic. At the centre is a hard boiled egg, and this is then wrapped in sausage meat and topped with breadcrumbs. The entire scotch egg is then fried.
The history of the Scotch egg is unknown. There are many claims from different areas in the UK to the Scotch egg, so there is no definitive history. Nowadays, scotch eggs can be easily found in supermarkets as a “lunch snack”.
Welsh rarebit is a very simple dish from Wales- it has nothing to do with rabbits. A piece of toast is covered in melted cheese sauce. Simple but delicious!
The sauce is normally made by mixing butter, beer, cheese, mustard and Worcestershire sauce in a pan then it’s poured over the toast and placed under the grill. There are many variations of this recipe, the main ones being different takes on this in each British country. The English rarebit uses wine instead of beer and the Scottish rarebit adds a slice of cheese on top of the melted cheese sauce.
As you can see, British food is very heavy and it’s usually eaten as the main course at dinner time. The best place to get British food is in the local pub and you don’t need to go very far in the UK to find a pub!
To learn more about countable and uncountable nouns, take a look at our grammar course, where you can learn everything there is to know.